Wednesday, June 20, 2012

" I don't want to go back to Florence."

Now here's a phrase I've heard more than once, and again just the other day from Paula and Rina (look up my facebook page). Not that there's anything wrong with Florence, if you exclude the noise, traffic, even noisier scooters, crowds and heat. So after a day in the relaxed open spaces of the Chianti countryside (with me of course), the thought of returning to it all is often daunting. With few exceptions it's back to your room with insufficient AC, (now everybody complains about this), and when you open the window for some air, you get blasted by a scooter, a bus, another scooter, yet another bus, and your olfactory senses delight in the fragrance of traffic fumes. Then out to dinner in a crowded restaurant, and later looking for somewhere to sit in a crowded cafe. Back to your room for a well earned night's sleep. Of course the scooters never sleep, and the loutish drunks yelling at the top of their obnoxious heads just have to let everyone know they're around.

So…if your coming to Italy to relax from the stress of your job and city life, you may not enjoy Florence that much. Sure a visit is an absolute must, I wouldn't dream of saying otherwise, but if your idea of a holiday is a quite room, where an open window means the breeze in the trees, and a cocktail by the pool with a view over Tuscan hills, you'd do well to forget Florence. So where do you want to go? Easy; just choose alternative accommodation in an agriturismo or villa in the spectacular countryside or in  the small picturesque towns of Chianti. There's an ample choice of varied accommodation, from basic and economic, to all out luxury.

However, lets' consider Florence again. I said Florence is a stressful city, but I didn't say it's to be avoided, how could I 12 million visitors can't be wrong? But if you're looking for peace and quite, the trick is to stay somewhere not too distant so you may get a bus or train into the city. If the accommodation is very remote, you may need a hire car, and if you really want to relax, then hire a driver guide like myself (why do you think I'm writing this article)? Another very important factor to consider, is the strategic position of Chianti to the rest of Tuscany. You'll no doubt want to do some touring, and Chianti is ideally located. You can easily tour Chianti itself, and you're within reasonable travel time to all the other must sees. Don't make the common mistake of judging travel times by your standards; roads in Tuscany are different. They're very busy, very windy and very slow. So a strategic position is important, for anyone wanting to do day tours, that don't involve endless hours sitting in a vehicle.

At this point why not look up a site or two that'll give you all the info you require to start considering your ideal accommodation. Here are some suggestions. Everything about Chianti, Italy
A travel guide for Chianti and Tuscany and accommodation.   Vacation accommodations in Tuscany
A huge selection of vacation accommodation in Tuscany, and lots of unusual but interesting info.

Wide selection of accommodation in Chianti, and info about Greve in Chianti too.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Agriturismo in Loro Ciuffenna.

Loro Ciuffenna is a tiny but delightful town in the Valdarno region of Tuscany. The Valdarno is Chianti's "poorer" sister and little considered by visitors from America and Asia, but very popular with European and Italian holiday makers. It's located about an hour south east of Florence, and due to the rural nature of the region, a car will be necessary. However the Valdarno area is well served by train from the main towns of San Giovanni and Montevarchi. If you don't want to drive you can always hire a driver guide, and I live on the spot. You can find me here: Scenic Wine Tours in Tuscany.

Most of the accommodation in Loro Ciuffenna is "Agriturismo" (vacation accommodation on farms), with locations in rural and remote areas. Some Agriturismo in Loro Ciuffenna are rather basic, while others offer high levels of luxury and every comfort. The common denominator is a countryside location and self catering. However, the degree of extra services can vary greatly from basic to five star, but this is an option for your consideration and not a fault. You can save a lot of money in the basic Agriturismi, or spend more and be pampered to the full. By Italian law the farm should be operational, and in Loro Ciuffenna most are. A small number have little to do with farming, and could be classed as country hotels. Again this isn't a shortcoming, but an option to consider when making your choice.

Loro Ciuffenna a view of town
Why choose an Agriturismo in Loro Ciuffenna? Well prices are a little lower than in the other more popular areas, and if you're looking for peaceful isolated locations with stunning scenery, this is the place to be. It's also well away from the usual tourist routes, and you get a much closer feel of what everyday Tuscany is all about. 

The best scenery is to be had in the hills in and around Loro Ciuffenna, which also offers a breezy climate in summer. A Godsend after a day in Florence! The tiny but pretty town sits on a gorge, and offers a choice of three restaurants, a pizzeria and three bars for breakfast or evening aperitif, not to mention a first class Gelateria open in summer. On Saturday evenings during July and August the centre of town is closed off to traffic, and you can sit at a table with the locals enjoying a drink in the central piazza. If you're need  groceries for you meal back at the house, you'll find all you need in the local Supermarket and grocery store. The grocery store in particular, offers a wide choice of local goodies such as sheep's cheese, cold cuts and olive oil. They also have homemade precooked dishes well worth trying. An Agriturismo in the Loro Ciuffenna area will give you the advantage of an isolated refuge, while being close enough to a town that can cater for all your basic needs.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Touring in Loro Ciuffena.

Many visitors don't take full advantage of Touring in Loro Ciuffenna. They assume they have to travel to the big guns elswhere, overlooking the treasures on the doorstep. This isn't really their a fault as little information is available in guide books, and even the local tourist board does little to promote the area, but that's where I come in. Take a look at my Cheese Making and Tuscan Olive Oil Tour and you'll see just how much the region has to offer. If you decide to forgoe the advantages of touring with me, I'll give you a few tips all the same.

Drive along the Setteponti  (seven bridges) road from Reggello to Loro Ciuffenna and you'll be treated to a  beautiful drive through neatly manicured, terraced olive orchards with outstanding views overlooking the Arno valley. If you drive slowly with stops for photos, it'll take just over an hour.

The Setteponti Road
Olive oil is the region's most important product, not only economically, but culturally. Certainly. Here it's more important than wine. You'll see a couple of mills during your drive, and If you want to taste genuine olive oil and not the stuff you find in supermarkets, then you couldn't be in a better place. You could try Santa Tea mill in Reggello, who do tastings and guided tours. Alternatively, buy a small bottle at a local grocery store, they always stock the genuine article. Remember they have to sell to the locals who are all savvy when it come to olive oil. Ask for oil from Gropina, you can't get more local than this, and I assure you it's the real McCoy. Expect a price tag of 8-12 euro per litre.

Another gastronomical delight is sheep's cheese made by the small artisanal dairies of the region. No industries here. Again try a local grocer (not supermarket) and ask for "Pecorino Locale." Pair it with a glass or two of Chianti, a piece of Tuscan bread - broken not sliced, and it's a feast for a king.

Walk around the village of Loro Ciuffenna where you'll have some great photo opportunities,  and be sure to cross the Ponte Romanico (Romanesque Bridge) for a view over the gorge. Ask any local to point it out. You might like to have lunch in Loro too. You can choose from a frugal but tasty snack at the Bar Centrale in the piazza (closed Tuesdays), or one of the three restaurants all within a minute's walk.

Then from Loro Ciuffenna, (locally just called Loro) head up into the mountains towards the tiny little mountain village of Trappola. It takes about fifteen minutes. The drive is spectacular with views of terraced olive orchards and the Valdarno (Arno Valley) in the distance. Walk around the ancient village of Trappola, and again enjoy the splendid views and absolute peace away from cars and crowds. You'll probably be the only tourists too, and the locals are always friendly towards the few visitors they receive. There's a rustic bar/restaurant called Vin' de Nuvoli were you can get an economical bite to eat. Maybe the cheese and wine I suggested earlier. Actually they have a well stocked wine cellar, you could try something special too. It's open 7/7 from May to September.

Around six in the evening head down to San Giovanni Valdarno (twenty minutes from Loro) and  join the locals for their evening stroll in Corso Italia (Main Street). The object is to walk slowly form one end of the street to the other more than once, while conversing, people watching, having  a gelato and browsing the shop windows. The town is also architecturally interesting, so don't forget to look around and up. Last but definitely not least…take it easy just like the locals.

copyright Sergio Ceccherini © Scenic Wine Tours in Tuscany 2012. All rights reserved.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

How to enjoy Chianti Classico Wine

There are eight geographical sub-zones for Chianti wines, and each produces a slightly different wine. My tours are mainly in the Chianti Classico area for two reasons. The first is that in my opinion it's the region which guarantees the highest standards of quality for Chianti wines. The second, the scenery is just so breathtaking. So maybe a word on how to enjoy Chianti Classico wine would be in worth talking about.
A cellar on my Wine Lover's Special Tour
First things first. To enjoy to Chianti wine to the full, it must be paired with food. In Italian food culture, and particularly in Tuscany, wine has always been intended to accompany food, and not as as a stand alone drink. There are exceptions to this rule, but for Chianti it's not in question.

If you're used to new world wines that are big and easy to drink, your first sip of Chianti you could be disappointing. You may find it dry and sour, and frankly, drinking Chianti on it's own is an acquired taste. But add food; anything with a salt and fat content and your perception will change drastically. In scientific terms, this is due to the chemical combinations that occur between the wine and food when in the mouth. In more pleasurable terms, Chianti doesn't cover the flavour of food, but rather blends with it, and in the process becomes velvety smooth. So pair Chianti with savoury red sauce dishes (the sauce should be made with olive oil or butter), red meats, cheeses and cold cuts. You can also serve it as an aperitif, just add appetizers. Never serve Chianti with sweets, it's awful. Sauces like ketchup (sweet & sour) are not good either. Open the bottle at least four hours before serving and above all, ensure it's at room temperature (65 F). By the way, a pairing I discovered by accident is young Chianti not barrel aged, with's fantastic

Winery courtyard on my Wine lover's Special Tour
Chianti Classico general tasting notes:
Colour: ruby red tending to purple brown with maturation.

Nose: vinous, with a scent of violets, dried plum and cherries. When aged in barrels, pepper, tobacco and chocolate.

In the mouth: warm, medium bodied, quite fresh & tannic, with predominant plum flavors.

Best between: four and nine years.

Serving: always at room temperature 65°F.

Pairing: Savoury dishes, meats, cheeses and cold cuts.

You might like to look over my Wine Lovers' Special Chianti Scenic Tour, maybe come for a visit and put my opinions to the test.

Website and content copyright Sergio Ceccherini © Scenic Wine Tours in Tuscany 2012 - 2013.
All rights reserved.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Wine tours in many wineries in a day?

Wine tours in Tuscany are a little different from the US and generally you can't walk in, take a drink and walk out. The larger wineries sometimes deal with walk-up tours, but I don't take my guests to bus tour wineries. The smaller wineries have limited staff, and often require advance booking. However they care about their wines, and will dedicate ample time to your experience. A tour & tasting will take an hour and a half,and even without a tour, you'll end up staying about 45 minutes at least. Also remember that wineries in Chianti are not conveniently lined up along main roads. They're scattered around a large hilly area at the end of dirt tracks, so moving from one to another takes time.

Another "time limiting" factor is the gorgeous countryside. You'll be hard pressed not to want stop and take photos, and there's one on every turn of the meandering roads. My itineraries are the result of years of experience in touring Tuscany, and I'll give you great photo opportunities. Take a look at my Facebook page and I hope you'll agree.

Then what about lunch? Do you really want to have a sandwich to go, when you're in one of the world's best places for food. Sit down for an hour or maybe more, and enjoy at least one course of Tuscan peasant cuisine, such as Ribollita, Panzanella, or Fagioli all'Uccelleto.

The wines of I Selvatecci winery makers of a fine Super Tuscan

So the answer to how many wineries for a day's touring in Tuscany is? Two. This is the perfect number, and you'll also have time to enjoy the fantastic scenery, take photos, and sit down to Tuscan lunch. Check out my Chianti tour and wine tasting for an idea.

However, if you're not interested in scenery or photos, and would rather take in more wineries, this can be done. I'd suggest a maximum of four, limiting cellar tours to just one. However let me know in advance, in order to make necessary reservations, and changes to the itinerary.

Sergio Ceccherini

Saturday, February 25, 2012

A driver guide in Tuscany and how to get the best from him.

Part 1. So you've hired a driver guide for your Chianti tour wine tasting. A great idea, you'll get closer to the people, the region, and the wine than with any other form of travel. Sure it's expensive, but you'll get you to see and do so much more.
my comfortable seven seater minivan with AC

However ensuring you get exactly what you desire, requires a little attention on your behalf too. Your driver guide guide in Tuscany wants to give you the best experience possible, and for me it's a question of pride. It's also good business practice to supply a great service; this may be your first and only visit, but next year your friends will be coming, and your guide hopes you will recommend him. So if your driver is so keen on giving a great day, why should this require extra attention on your behalf? You've paid the fee, you didn't ask for discount, it's only natural you get the best possible service…right?

Well things things aren't that obvious. When we hire a Tuscan wine tour guide, it's natural to assume he's a local, he's knowledgeable and therefore he can get things done. Well this is true, your guide does knows places and people, and he can open many doors, but a little perspective is necessary.

Your guide's biggest problem in giving you the best experience possible is that Italians are sometimes not as business minded as you'd expect. Some commercial practices seem more concerned with closing, rather than opening times. A second problem he may have is the mind staggering bureaucracy on behalf of the authorities, and anything that's state run. Things can be annoyingly illogical and sometimes impossible for your guide, even if he is a local.

Landscape photo from my Chianti wine tasting tour

Sergio Ceccherini

A driver guide in Tuscany and how to get the best from him.

Part 2. You can find a plate of fettuccini with Genovese pesto sauce at 3:00 in the morning in New York. Don't expect a driver guide in Tuscany to be able to do the same, even if you're in Genoa where the dish comes from. The first thing to bear in mind is; don't assume anything will be open or available on the day you require, even during normal business hours. Museums are often closed on Mondays, and wineries are often closed on Sundays, and some on weekdays too.

My comfortable minivan with AC
I had clients who had booked a Val d'Orcia Tuscan photography tour, for a day in October. They told me well into the tour on a Saturday, that the only reason they had booked the tour, was to visit wineries in Montalcino and do tastings of Brunello. The tour was a disaster! As of October, wineries in the Montalcino area close on Saturdays, and despite my knowledge, I couldn't find anyone willing to open for "just two" customers. If you have a winery, museum, restaurant or shop you really want to visit, ask your driver to check it will be open in advance.

Photo from my Val d'Orcia photography tour
Another common assumption that can put your guide in difficulty, is your perception of time and distance. You've been studying your map of Tuscany at home, and you've decided you'd like to go on a Siena and Chianti Tour then finish your day with a visit to Pisa. Unless you want to spend most of the in the van, and a tour lasting upwards of twelve hours, this isn't advisable. (Some tour companies do offer this type of tour…I don't).

Italy is about the size of Arizona, so compared to the states it's tiny. Tuscany is only a twentieth of Italy, so it's easy to be mislead into thinking it can be seen in a day. However it's still 8,900 square miles, which is much the same as new Jersey. Another mistake that can be made when considering travel times, is assuming there are fast road connections. With few exceptions roads are busy if not very busy, and most of the places you will want to see are on winding country roads. Your driver can probably drive them like the Indianapolis 500, but you won't thank him if he does. Ask your driver to advise you on travel times.

And finally...when proposing a tour, your guide has used his knowledge and experience to give you the best in terms of sites and activities, and he will have optimized times. Read the tour description carefully and ask yourself if you really need to make variations? If you do that's fine, but ask for custom Tuscan tour.

Last minute requests may give your guide problems that he may not be able to deal with on short notice. Give him as much up front information possible, and put him in the condition to give you a great day.

Sergio Ceccherini